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New research shows language barriers prevent access to justice and rehabilitation

Birkbeck researchers identify areas for improvement in policy and practice; including introducing training and guidance for frontline staff and improving access to English language education.

Researchers at Birkbeck have found that individuals who speak English as a second or additional language (ESL) can be disadvantaged when in contact with the criminal justice system 

They found evidence of unfair justice outcomes and constraints on access to services and support, including rehabilitative initiatives and language services. Part of the reason for this was a lack of training for staff and insufficient resources to properly offer support.  

The organisations involved in the project are calling for the Government to strengthen victims’ rights to language support in the upcoming Victims’ Bill and for equitable access to rehabilitation services for speakers of ESL in prison and under probation supervision. 

Gillian Hunter, Senior Research Fellow at Birkbeck’s Institute of Crime and Justice Policy Research, said:  

Our research aimed to raise awareness about how language barriers might impact access to justice, but we also wanted to highlight and share current expertise and learning and offer practical tools to support professionals in working with individuals who speak ESL.”   

The research project combined a review of rights and entitlements to language support in the criminal justice system with close examination of organisational practices and individual experiences in two contrasting geographic locations. The research is detailed in the report, Language barriers in the criminal justice system, by the Institute of Crime and Justice Policy Research at Birkbeck in partnership with Victim Support and the Centre for Justice Innovation. It provides detail on the effects of language barriers for victims, witnesses, suspects, defendants, and people with convictions.  

The project was funded by The Bell Foundation.

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